Interview by Shannon Lawlor and Arnold van der Walt
Bearcubs is a solo project from 27-year-old producer Jack Ritchie and over the last couple of years you might have come across his name. His masterfully layered productions include a wide variety of genres including lofi house music, future garage and his own signature emotive electronic music. This genre-defying characteristic of Bearcubs has caused him to gain support from tastemaker publications like NPR, Fader, Line of Best Fit, Mixmag, Noisey, Complex, pigeons and pains and many more. His music has also been heavily championed by Annie Mac, Mistajam and Huw Stephens on BBC Radio 1. He has managed to reach the top of Hype Machine’s Popular Chart a stunning 6 times and his Spotify streaming numbers are above 36 million streams.
Bearcubs released his debut album, ‘Ultraviolet’ earlier this year to critical acclaim and has seen the producer climb onto the world’s must-watch list as one of the most exciting electronic acts to come out of the UK in a while. His ‘Ultraviolet’ tour finished recently, marking the end of this era of Bearcubs. We’re very excited to see what the future will hold for him, as he promised us that the following phase of Bearcubs will take him into uncharted territory.
We sat down with Bearcubs and spoke about his debut album ‘Ultraviolet’, how he creates his sound, and the difference between live music in Berlin and London.
For those foreign to Bearcubs’ astonishing fuse of imagination, eclecticism and inspiration, how would you personally describe the music you produce?
That’s a very complimentary question, thanks! Well I’ve always been very aware of atmospheres and moods, so I think I use my own music as a way to create sonic worlds that you can enter. I’ve always been a fan of both experimental music and also the more interesting and thoughtful side of pop music, so I’m attempting to combine these elements in my own music.
Your latest album and debut LP Ultraviolet was self-released to critical acclaim back in March. Could you detail this recording process, and could you explain how it may have differed to 2017’s Underwaterfall EP?
Writing Ultraviolet was quite an intense time for me. My previous releases had been more like collections of tracks that I’d built up over time. For Ultraviolet I wanted to create a complete self-standing piece of music, so I locked myself away in a studio I was renting in Tottenham at the time and spent six months trying to craft my first album.
Bearcubs has remixed for, or collaborated with some notable artists in the past including Fakear, Gorgon City, Beau Young Prince, and ODESZA, just to name a few. If you could choose to work closely with any artist on the planet – who would it be, and why?
Well Björk has always been one of my dream collaborations, her uniqueness and ability to push boundaries whilst still being heartfelt in all her songs inspires me to create.
Let’s talk about London’s current electronic music scene. What are your thoughts, and are there any ways in which you’d like to challenge, change or even improve the community in any way?
I never really felt part of a scene in London. There’s a lot of amazing music coming out of London but living there it sometimes felt like people were more interested in competition rather than collaboration, I guess it’s just how the city is these days. I want to be part of a community where people boost each other up and help each other create in new and interesting ways.
After relocating from London to Berlin, have you noticed any undenying differences between the two cities and how the electronic music culture may flourish in disparate ways?
One of the main differences I’ve noticed so far is how many more spaces there are for parties and exhibitions/events in Berlin. It feels like maybe there is more opportunity to create your own nights and more cross-disciplinary collaboration, which is exciting for me.
Are there any countries or places in particular which you’d like to travel or tour in? What draws you to these specific areas?
I’d love to go to Tokyo to perform. It feels like one of those places where it’s all about the music, where everyone’s happy to be in a room together vibing to the same thing. The city itself and the arts culture there seems insane also.
Care to tell us about some of your most favoured memories or personal highlights within your already illustrious musical career?
This year was pretty special as I released my debut album and got to play a bunch of festivals over summer. Last month we played the main room at Berghain which was probably one of my favourite shows we’ve ever played, such an incredible space and crowd.
The track “Alone With You”, taken from Ultraviolet, is a rich, expansive aural journey through texture and emotion. Could you possibly give us some meaning or further insight into this particular piece?
I wrote this one with Clem Douglas of Kudu Blue. We wanted to make a classic rnb/Garage Track but with slightly more futuristic production. It all started with her vocal harmonies that float through the song.
To encompass on Bearcubs’ prolific and deeply imaginative sound – are there any pieces of equipment, hardware or software in which you feel is completely essential in producing your own distinctive characteristics?
I mainly use a Prophet Rev 2 synthesiser for my live shows, but when I’m producing I’m usually trying to create something analogue sounding, so I use a lot of vintage synth emulators and samples.
To mark the end of the Ultraviolet era, you have not only released two wonderfully immersive unheard b-sides to the LP, but you’ve also just recently returned from three UK performances. What did you take from this experience? Did these shows serve as a fruitful ‘farewell’ to Ultraviolet’s unique, fluorescent charm?
It was a great way to finish touring for the year. Since we started playing the Ultraviolet live set it feels like the songs have really come to life and I’ve gotten to discover a lot more about them and my writing in general. I feel like I’ve taken a lot of inspiration from this that I want to work into my new music and hopefully try and create a bigger and better live show for next year.
What does a typical Bearcubs playlist usually consist of, and are there any up-and-coming artists high on your radar that you’d like to mention?
I don’t really have a set playlist as it all depends on my mood, but recently I’ve been listening to a lot of interesting new artists like Kelly Lee Owens, David August and Rejjie Snow to name a few.
What can we expect from Bearcubs in 2019 and beyond?
New music, a new live show and sort of a new direction in general.